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FealGood Foundation

New one-stop clinic opens in Commack to provide care for 9/11 first responders

First responder John Feal gets a checkup at the Stony Brook WTC Wellness Program center, which opened a new facility in Commack, Nov. 28. Photo from Stony Brook WTC Wellness Program website

Accessing medical treatment on Long Island has become easier for 9/11 first responders.

Stony Brook WTC Wellness Program celebrated the official opening of its new one-stop health clinic in Commack Nov. 28. The program relocated from Islandia to the Stony Brook Medicine Advanced Specialty Care building, located at 500 Commack Road. The move allowed the program to expand from a monitoring facility into a 20,000-square-foot, integrative clinic where World Trade Center responders can receive more comprehensive medical treatment under one roof.

Dr. Benjamin Luft, program director and principal investigator, said the clinic is dedicated to caring for approximately 10,000 patients suffering from illnesses after volunteering at Ground Zero after 9/11. He said the responders suffer from a wide variety of conditions and the new location will provide the medical staff more resources. Among the new services available will be blood testing and imaging, which weren’t available in Islandia and caused patients to have to go elsewhere.

“This is ideal for the World Trade responder patient population, and the reason why is these patients who have been so severely affected by the World Trade Center disaster have a compendium of various abnormalities and disorders which are directly related to 9/11,” Luft said. “These included diseases ranging from psychiatry diseases to respiratory and gastrointestinal problems, to cancer.”

“The program is now a state-of-the-art facility that not only monitors you, but treats you and gives you top-notch medical care all in one facility.”

— John Feal

The doctor said the program has a research team dedicated to studying neurocognitive problems, autoimmune issues and cancer-related illness. The new Commack location has an in-house laboratory that will make accessing patients’ samples and processing them easier. He said many of the illnesses related to the disaster were not initially recognized, and the number of patients has grown approximately 8 to 10 percent each year since the monitoring clinic first opened on the Stony Brook University campus shortly after 9/11.

The day of the Commack grand opening, the Stony Brook WTC Wellness Program honored John Feal, a first responder and founder of the Fealgood Foundation. A Nesconset resident and Commack native, he said having the clinic where he grew up is special to him. Feal and members of his organization worked tirelessly to get the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act passed in Dec. 2010 and again in 2015. The act enables first responders, volunteers and survivors of the Sept. 11 attacks to receive health monitoring and financial aid.

Luft said at first the program treated many patients who lacked medical insurance coverage. “So when they got sick, they didn’t have health insurance or have someone to take care of their acute problems,” he said. “We established our clinic to do that at no additional costs to the patients.”

Feal, who was a patient at the Islandia clinic and recently had his physical in Commack, said he was impressed with the new location.

“The program is now a state-of-the-art facility that not only monitors you, but treats you and gives you top-notch medical care all in one facility,” Feal said.

He said having a one-stop clinic is important to many, especially for those who have become too frail to travel. Aging is an issue as many are now in their mid-50s or older.

“As we get further away from 9/11, the illnesses are getting worse,” Feal said. “One, because of age and, two, because with these illnesses, some latency periods and manifestations in the body take this long.”

The first responder said it was humbling to be honored for his work Nov. 28.

“We’re talking about human life, and I’m never going to apologize for anything I ever said or did, because at the end of the day I only care about helping those who are sick from 9/11,” Feal said. “And so many people are getting sick. It’s not ending anytime soon.”

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The latest 100 names are read off before being unveiled as part of Nesconset’s own memorial wall in honor of those lost after lending helping hands in the aftermath of September 11 in 2001. Photo by Jenni Culkin

By Jenni Culkin

There was not a dry eye in the 9/11 Responders Remembered Park as the greater North Shore community came together to commemorate the lives of first responders who died from September 11-related illnesses.

The Nesconset park, at the intersection of Smithtown Boulevard and Gibbs Pond Road, was dedicated to victims of the horrendous terrorist attack and was crowded with hundreds of residents and families as 100 new names were added to its memorial wall on May 16.

“They are the reason we get out of bed,” said John Feal, founder of the FealGood Foundation, who acted as the master of ceremonies. “Thank you for allowing us to serve you.”

The wall already had more than 500 names, but those who spoke at the somber ceremony did so with the same sort of hurt felt when the attack first occurred in 2001.

“Like everyone here today, I pale in comparison to those who are going on the wall,” Martin Aponte, president of the park, said during the ceremony with a voice full of emotion.

The service featured various patriotic musical performances and words from elected officials.

“We thank you, from the bottom of our hearts,” said Suffolk County Legislator Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset), “I commit to you that I will always stand watch over this park.”

Elected officials from neighboring towns joined the Nesconset community in honoring the lives of the 9/11 responders.

“We are truly a country of greatness and heroes,” said Legislator Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore).

Toward the end of the ceremony, the sons of fallen responders read the names that were going to be etched into the memorial wall. Each name was followed by a solemn bell toll.

Shortly after the names were all read, the sun started to show itself above the memorial park. Feal and those who played active roles in leading the ceremony made it very clear during and after the ceremony that they were grateful for the amount of people attending the ceremony despite the rainy weather.

“It’s humbling to see this many people come out,” Feal said. “For people to withstand Mother Nature truly showed the American spirit.”

Aponte said there are trees among the park’s foliage that are direct descendants of a tree that survived the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11. One of these trees was given to the Hauppauge Fire Department and another was also given to the Nesconset Fire Department as tokens of appreciation for each department’s contribution to the park.

A memorial ceremony is usually held, and is expected to continue to be held, every May during Memorial Day week and every September during the anniversary of the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center.

The park has plans to eventually recognize and honor the service dogs that have passed away due to 9/11-related illnesses, Aponte said. There are also plans to place signs on the Long Island Expressway that lead travelers to the park from nearby exits but there are no definite dates at this time.

The park’s upkeep and development is dependent upon donations that can be made on the park’s website, which is at respondersremembered.com. The Greater Smithtown Chamber of Commerce is also going to be hosting a golf outing to benefit the park in early August.

“We built this park so history does not get distorted,” Aponte said.

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